When I was in college, I had a buddy who would get in his car with a mission to hit as many garage sales and flea markets as he could reach while still making it back to Stillwater in time for his Monday morning classes. He would return with a trunk full of worn out looking clothes that he had paid almost nothing to acquire, and in some cases were just given to him. At the time, I just assumed he was a pack rat, or considering he was an art major, someone who was going to make some weird sculpture out of scrap cotton and polyester.
Since he dropped out of school when I was a sophomore, I lost touch with him until I bumped into him while getting my wife an Orange Julius at Quail Springs Mall. He was standing outside the vintage clothing store he had just opened. Curious, I walked inside and realized that all the merchandise he was selling came from trips like those weekend adventures he went on while at OSU. Even more, I realized he was making a killing. Shirts and pants he had acquired for pennies were going for no less than $30 a pop and most of it was far more expensive. The art major had come up with a great business model in which every sale was almost entirely profit.
Sam Presti makes me think of this guy a lot.
By design or necessity, the Sonics/Thunder franchise has always been a model of fiscal conservatism since Presti took over the reins during the team’s last year in Seattle. While most of the league has stocked their roster full of overpaid players and flirted with the luxury tax, Presti’s teams have always started the season well below the salary cap.
That status has made him a great bargain hunter. I once read a Chad Ford article that said Portland’s Kevin Pritchard was the best wheeler-dealer in the NBA because he made more calls than anyone else, unafraid of being shot down for a terrible trade proposal. My guess is that Sam Presti is the opposite.
As the one guy who consistently has money to spend in a league full of bloated payroll’s, Presti is a loan shark in a poor neighborhood. The other GM’s must seek him out as if he’s The Godfather on the day of his daughter’s wedding.
In return for granting the request of his fellow general manager (which is typically, “take this overpaid bench player off my hands so we don’t have to double his salary with luxury tax”), they must grant Sam Presti a favor. Usually, that has been draft picks.
The best example was the Kurt Thomas acquisition during his inaugural season. The Suns, who always seem to be making rash roster decisions for fiscal reasons (at least since being purchased by Robert Sarver), were well over the luxury tax threshold and needing to shed a ton of salary without taking anything back. With the SuperSonics some $10MM under the salary cap thanks to the trade of Ray Allen and loss of Rashard Lewis in free agency, they were the onlyteam that could save them. When Steve Kerr called his fellow rookie GM like Leia sending out the distress call to Obi Wan Kenobi, Presti made him pay through the nose.
For the act of taking on a pretty solid, albeit close to washed up, Kurt Thomas and his $8MM expiring contract, Presti required the Suns give up two first round picks. The first of those picks became Serge Ibaka, which I would suggest was a pretty good haul by itself. Phoenix saved $16MM in total, and the Sonics got a de facto player/coach who eventually was bought out so Presti’s former team, San Antonio, could sign him for the playoffs.
Other salary dumps that Presti has maneuvered included taking Chucky Atkins off the hands of Denver for draft disappointment Johan Petro, (a trade that eventually was parlayed into Etan Thomas). For that deal, Presti acquired the first round pick that became Byron Mullens, who may be the second coming of Johan Petro. Also, at the trade deadline, Presti took Thabo Sefolosha from the Bulls who were suddenly cash strapped after acquiring Brad Miller and John Salmons. The cost? A first round pick the Thunder didn’t need.
This past week, he may have struck gold again. Armed with salary cap space, he was approached by the Utah Jazz hoping to alleviate their luxury tax liability. The Jazz had expected several players to opt out of their contracts this past Summer, but were burned when Carlos Boozer (who had informed them he would become a free agent last season) and Kyle Korver surveyed the market and realized their best bet was to stay put. Then Portland hosed them by offering Paul Millsap a front loaded contract which Utah, not wanting to lose him, matched. In essence, their payroll during a recession became alarmingly overwhelming.
Again, the Thunder happened to be the only team that could provide relief. Again, Presti made them pay through the nose to do them a “favor.”
In return for the draft rights of Peter Fehse and taking basketball invalid Matt Harpring’s expiring contract (which is being paid by an insurance company), the Thunder received another valuable piece in the roster building process. While I am not as in love with Eric Maynor as Royce, (I wanted a point guard with Maynor’s instincts that could shoot, too) he is still a fantastic return for taking the contract of a guy the team doesn’t have to pay and a second round pick that was never going to play in the United States.
In all, Sam Presti has acquired these players on the current roster…
- Thabo Sefolosha
- Eric Maynor
- Etan Thomas
- Serge Ibaka
- Byron Mullens
…as well as Phoenix’ first round pick in the upcoming draft, for these tangible assets…
- a first round pick used to take Taj Gibson
- Johan Petro
You ask me, that’s a lot for nothing.